Campus Climate Survey Validation Study

A rigorous, reliable methodology for measuring sexual assault and campus climate at universities across the United States

Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office on Violence Against Women

Sexual assault on college campuses is a reality. The most widely reported statistic, that one in five undergraduate women experience sexual assault while in college, is from a 2007 study we conducted for the National Institute of Justice.

However, this estimate does not represent a national average or that of any given university. Our experts co-authored the’ Campus Climate Survey Validation Study (CCSVS) to generate the tools needed to collect valid, reliable data that schools can use to better understand the problem they face and better inform their policies and practices.

We found that the percentage of undergraduate women who experienced a completed sexual assault during the 2014-2015 academic year varied dramatically from one school (low of 4 percent) to another (high of 20 percent). And, consistent with previously research, very few incidents (12.5 percent of rape incidents and 4.3 percent of sexual battery incidents) were reported to any official—including university authorities, any law enforcement agency on or off campus, and any crisis or health care center on or off campus.

These low rates of reporting confirm that official statistics released by schools or law enforcement, which are based on the extremely low proportion of victims who notify any official about the incident, have limited utility for understanding the full scope of the problem. Low reporting rates further illustrate the importance of administering confidential climate surveys to obtain self-reported data from students about their victimization experiences.

We administered a confidential, web-based survey at nine diverse colleges and universities to collect data on sexual assault and campus climate from 23,000 undergraduate students (15,000 women and 8,000 men) in the spring of 2015. As a result of the CCSVS, a valid survey instrument and methodology for measuring sexual assault and campus climate related to sexual assault can now be used on a larger scale to understand and begin to address the issue of campus sexual assault.

As we work to extend the value of this study, our experts have been invited on multiple occasions to brief White House officials and Congressional staff on the CCSVS and offer comments on legislative proposals to survey students on a large-scale, ongoing basis. In this way, we are helping to inform policymakers seeking to understand the nature and scope of the problem of sexual assault among students on our nation’s campuses.